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Monday, November 29, 2021

On this important mental health day ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’

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Whether it be an elderly patient, a fellow health colleague or an unpaid carer, today is the day to ask one small but potentially life-saving question:

“Are you OK?”

The theme of this year’s R U OK?Day is ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’, comes in response to new research which has found that 22 per cent of Australians aren’t reaching out to ask ‘are you OK?’ because there hasn’t been an occasion where they felt someone needed their help.  

R U OK? chief executive officer Katherine Newton says in light of this, the harm prevention charity is encouraging Australians to make the question part of their everyday, conversational toolkit.

“We want to emphasise that an R U OK? conversation is not only for when someone is visibly distressed or in crisis…  their support can make a difference for anyone who is struggling,”

Registered psychologist and suicidologist Ann-Maree Fardell-Hartley tells Aged Care News that according to recent research, 80 per cent of people felt more supported and cared for when asked about their mental wellbeing, with 72 per cent feeling better about themselves and their troubles when given the opportunity to ‘talk it out’.

“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the people in their world feel connected and supported,” Fardell-Hartley says.

“You don’t have to be an expert, just a good friend and a great listener.”

When the carer needs some care

Aged care workers, nurses, and many other allied health professionals dedicate their lives to looking after the needs of society’s most vulnerable.

But on R U OK?Day, it is important to remember that you and your colleagues are not totally bullet-proof and should be supported in your moments of vulnerability, too.

Frontline health worker and ex-Hockeyroo Rachael Lynch says what made it easier for her was the way her friends, supporters, family and everyone around her paid attention to the change in her personality and behaviour and checked in.

It is a situation that registered nurse and ex-Hockeyroo Rachael Lynch found herself in at the beginning of 2020.

“I found myself in a particularly dark place… somewhere I have never been before,” Lynch says. 

Although the depression she faced was initially circumstantial, over time she felt worn down, the dark cloud beginning to constantly pervade her thoughts.

“For the past ten years I had been supporting others as a nurse, frontline health worker, coach and mental health spokesperson.

“I can honestly say that it isn’t easy- admitting you’re doing it tough and letting people in to help.”

But it was that one little question, ‘are you OK?’ asked by her friends and family, that allowed her to feel comfortable opening up. 

“What made it easier was the way my friends, supporters, family and everyone around me paid attention to the change in my personality and behaviour and checked in.

“You may not realise it at the time, but every moment you check in with someone you’re worried about, you’re building up their confidence to get the help they need.

“It may take time, but knowing they have people around them, like I did, helps bring light into the dark place they’re in,” she says.

Supporting our elders

In December 2020, R U OK and the Stockland Care Foundation launched their ‘Your Natter Matters’ campaign to specifically target the elderly community.

Stockland national manager for group sustainability Amy Hogan says an estimated 10-15 per cent of Australians aged over 65 will experience depression, some for the very first time as they experience the new challenges that come with age.

An estimated 10-15 per cent of Australians aged over 65 will experience depression, some for the very first time as they experience the new challenges that come with age.

“Our retirement communities provide residents with a sense of social cohesion, connection and support, however, there are a number of life events that may impact people, including the loss of a partner, health issues, or a significant change to their life,” she says.

Hogan tells Aged Care News that social connections and interactions with family, friends and the broader community are a key contributor to a person’s wellbeing.

“Together with R U OK? and some of their incredible resources, we’ve been able to help increase the willingness and confidence of retirees to recognise the signs that someone is struggling, start a genuine conversation and lend appropriate support.”

The campaign includes a variety of digital resources, available via this link,  that can be printed and distributed through aged care facilities and other social networks.   

The digital package includes activities such as Conversation Bingo, which encourages elders to get to know each other better through a range of questions such as ‘what was the last movie you watched?’ and ‘what makes you laugh out loud?’.

The Hepburn Shire in Central Victoria, whose population has a median age of 50, has begun to roll out the ‘Your Natter Matters’ materials in their neighbourhood organisation and social clubs.

Hepburn Shire Council interim chief executive officer Bradley Thomas believes it is a great way to support mental health and wellbeing in a practical, hands-on way.

“With lots of active senior citizens and retirees who volunteer across a myriad of organisations within the community, we have an opportunity to make sure they are all doing OK … whilst educating them about the signs to look out for in those around them, who may not be doing as well,” he says.

If you or a loved one need immediate crisis and emotional support call Lifeline: 131 444 or 000 (Triple Zero).

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